Saturday, June 22, 2024

"Hope that breaks the witch’s spell"

Making an argument that G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien have also made:
.... Fairy tales are beloved by children partly because they are tales of action. Rather than revolving around the inner thoughts and motivations of nuanced characters, they are concerned with what happens next, what the characters (often archetypes) do. They are more than mere fables with a snappy moral (think Aesop) because their meaning transcends clearcut lessons. Instead, they are full of mystery. There is room inside these tales for the child to explore fairyland: a strange and dangerous world in which she can practice overcoming her fears by journeying alongside the hero. And at the end of the tale, everything is set right. ....

The fairy tale acknowledges that parents do not always love and care for their children as they ought, that loved ones die and leave us alone and grieving, that evil is real and often powerful, and that violence and sin are present in our world. All these truths make grownups uncomfortable; we are eager to smooth over a child’s fears with comforting falsehoods. “Don’t worry, nothing is going to happen to me,” a mother might say when her child is distraught at the thought of her mortality. But the child knows that sometimes mothers die and his mother is no different. Children are wise enough to be afraid of death, loss, and danger – after all, these are frightening things. The question is whether we allow them to wrestle well with these fears or not. British writer G. K. Chesterton famously wrote, “The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a Saint George to kill the dragon.” If we spend our efforts trying to convince a child that the dragons of life can’t hurt him, we not only fail to tell the truth, we fail to show him that dragons do not have the last word. And the child longs to be equipped to face the monsters he fears, whether dragons or death. ....

Every human being understands the world and his place in it through narratives. God wires us to be formed by story; Jesus himself tells parables to teach his disciples. It is of the highest importance that we consider what stories we are telling our young people. What character do they think they are in the story of their lives? And what kind of world is their story set in? Is it a world in which greed and power will be ultimately triumphant? Is it a world in which love and goodness hold any sway? Could the dread that seems to plague our young people be not merely a reaction to the brokenness of our world but our failure to communicate that the universe will ultimately be set right as both fairy tales and the gospel promise? ....

To combat both the anxiety that comes to children robbed of the space to confront evil and the despair that holds that the last chapter of humanity’s tale is final defeat, we have to offer truer stories. Early in life, children need to be steeped in fairy tales that don’t gloss over the dark and ugly parts of the world. Children are wise; they reject the false advertising of cheap positive thinking for the real prize of hard-won hope. For a message of hope to be received, it must be hope that shines in darkness, hope that breaks the witch’s spell. .... (more)

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